Police officers in Altona have a new tool in stopping opioid overdoses from substances such as fentanyl and carfentanyl. Members have been given kits by the Government of Manitoba that include the antidote Naloxone to use on someone experiencing a suspected overdose. The medication blocks the effects of opioids and works in about two to five minutes, lasting between half-an-hour to an hour.
"We're very grateful to the Province of Manitoba and Proceeds of Crime for funding these kits," said Altona Police Chief Perry Batchelor. He adds the department is also grateful to the Winnipeg Police Service for the support and training received over the past few weeks in how to handle Naloxone.
"It's actually very simple to administer but there are three training videos that Winnipeg put together and sent to us, so each officer will independently review those videos before being issued his kit."
He describes the kind of scenario that would have to take place before an officer would administer the antidote.
Batchelor adds officers have been assured that there are no ill-affects if Naloxone is given to someone not experiencing an overdose, and says this was a personal reassurance for him.
"We're not paramedics, we're police officers. It's quite out of the ordinary for a police officer to be administering drugs so that speaks volumes to the concerns by both provincial and federal governments."
In fact, in 2015 death from fentanyl overdose was declared a public health crisis in Canada.
While recreational use of the opioid is a significant problem in western Canada - in particular British Columbia - and the prairies, it is starting to filter east and has begun to pop up in Toronto.
Batchelor adds however, it isn't just a big city problem. "We have seen fentanyl in our community...being used illicitly."
Fentanyl is actually a widely used intravenous anaesthesia in hospitals and pain management agent in the form of pills, patches, lozenges and nasal sprays. It is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Batchelor explains that while officers haven't yet seen the powdered form, the prescription pain patches are being cut up and ingested. "Those in the drug culture refer to them as chiclets."
"It's very unfortunate because, in all honesty, this stuff kills," adds Batchelor. He notes there was an instance in the past year where an individual did overdose on fentanyl, however they were fortunate and did not die.
"...It has its place, like so many other prescription drugs. It's when they're used outside of prescriptions, outside of doctors' advice, it's simply a bad bad idea."
Batchelor says however, in some cases people who use illegal/recreational drugs don't even know they're taking fentanyl and explains that substances like Methamphetamine, Cocaine, Cannabis and other prescription drugs are being laced with the opioid. "It's all about a higher high and a bigger kick with this stuff."
Sadly, he notes it seems like something new pops up in the drug world every day.
Meantime, Batchelor says the Naloxone kit is also about protecting officers and explains the antidote may also be used should they, or another first responder, ingest a drug such as powdered fentanyl in the course of their duties.
"There have been cases in Canada where police officers have been in rooms where this stuff is being manufactured or used...they ingest it and go through the symptoms of an overdose. So, an officer who has a kit could self-administer or have his/her partner help them through the situation..."
Altona police officers will also be carrying protective equipment such as masks and safety glasses.
Batchelor encourages anyone battling addiction, or those who know someone struggling, to call the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba toll free at 1-855-662-6605. Addictions counsellors are available Monday to Friday during regular business hours to provide advice and resources.